The Value of Prevention

Exploring the Value of Prevention

From Foundation Senior Program Officer Rachel Wick:

One of my new year’s resolutions was to work on my personal finances. Like many Americans, I’m better at spending money than I am at saving it – this is good news in my professional life as a grantmaker but less so in my personal life! I’m learning that finances are complex. At the surface, they seem easy to manage through spreadsheets and fancy software. Underneath, there are patterns of behavior and deeply held, sometimes unconscious beliefs and values that guide our decision-making. I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’m a “live in the moment” type of person who needs to find a better balance between responding to current needs and experiences, and planning for those that lie ahead in an uncertain future.

Our Foundation asked similar questions about complex social issues and values in our recent request for proposals, Exploring the Value of Prevention. Americans generally seem to believe that investing early to prevent costly outcomes in the future makes good social and financial sense. However, that belief doesn’t match-up with the level of resources we invest in prevention today.  Even though we believe in it, we aren’t always doing it.

We recognize that addressing the root causes of poor health and domestic violence requires resources well beyond the healthcare and public health sectors, and yet, we are still learning about the contributions and impacts of non-health sectors on community health. As a society, we haven’t found the most effective ways for “non-health” investments to drive prevention, focus them on the communities that need them most, and track their impact on health, safety, and well-being.

We also haven’t found the sweet spot where there is alignment between the outcomes that communities want, the programs and policies that nonprofits and advocates aim to deliver, and the work that governments are willing and able to fund. Could a possible solution be to engage people as co-investors in their own health and give them a financial stake in creating positive outcomes for themselves, their families, and their communities? This shift could put resources in the hands of those who have the greatest power to create change and advance equity.

As part of our Designing the Future of Health initiative, the Foundation is excited to support sixteen new projects focused on creating healthier communities by exploring the value of prevention and our collective ability to bring resources, funding, knowledge, technology, and shared values together to effect widescale systems transformation. The selected projects all address a complex prevention problem while also advancing the field of prevention through a new tool, method, strategy or lens. We understand that our most intractable social problems are complex—a neighborhood where health is poor is created out of a variety of root causes and conditions—and our solutions to these complex problems are just emerging.

All of the projects draw from diverse skill sets, new and existing partnerships, and unique sector expertise. They represent multiple organizations working on issues ranging from violence prevention to early childhood wellness to housing, and community services to regional economic development and environmental health. They include nonprofit organizations, cross-sector collaboratives, social investment firms, government agencies, researchers, policy advocates, and clinical and public health experts. They are working at both the state and local levels to create fundamental, systemic change.

Understanding value lives somewhere at the intersection of what we know, what we believe, what we take action on, and when and how long we stick with it. Applying these concepts to prevention calls us to recognize and respond the reality of the poor health outcomes we see today while holding out hope and opportunity so we can create pathways to better health in the future. The only risk is getting stuck in a scarcity mindset, believing that investing in our future inherently means giving something up today. That’s one of the lessons I’m trying to bring to my own financial life both today and into the future.

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